Put A Ring On It by J'son M. Lee
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September 1996. The law forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently struck down "Section Three," which prevented the federal government from recognizing any marriages between gay or lesbian couples for the purpose of federal laws or programs, even if those couples are considered legally married in their home state.
The challenge to DOMA was brought by Edith Windsor, who was married to Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 and lived in New York (where their marriage was recognized). When Spyer died in 2009, the feds forced Windsor to pay $363,000 in taxes on her late wife's estate. If federal law had recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes.
Currently, 18 states recognize marriage equality—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia. The ruling on DOMA will have major effects on families as it relates to military family benefits, social security benefits, multiple areas of tax categories, hospital visitation rights, and healthcare benefits. These are just a few of the myriad marital benefits that were denied to families because of DOMA, but will now be granted to same-sex couples in legal marriages.
Mark Williams and Edwin Greer are ecstatic about these rulings. Like countless others, they longed for the day when they could be married and enjoy the full benefits of that partnership. On November 23, 2013, their dream became a reality. Surrounded by a few close family members and friends, the couple said “I do” in a private ceremony at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, a world-class, four diamond hotel located on the banks of the Potomac River near Washington, DC.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the newly married couple to talk about their marriage and the impact these complicated rulings would have on their future.
Mark and Edwin, thank you for taking the time to speak with Proud Times. First of all, congratulations on your nuptials! Tell our readers a little about yourselves.
Edwin: Thank you very much. Well, I am relativity new to the area. I moved here for my career, by way of El Paso, Texas. I am originally from Arkansas. I served in the military for a total of fourteen years. I am just a good old southern boy.
Mark: I am a native of Houston, Texas. I came here in 1998 to attend Howard University. After I graduated, I stayed in the area to start my career. We both work for the federal government; he is a government contractor and I am a civilian.
Where did the two of you meet? Who popped the big question?
Mark: We are part of the growing trend of people that met online.
Edwin: We were out to dinner and with two other couples—one married as well. The other couple was engaged. They also met on the same website. There was really no popping of the question. We both knew we would get married, accepted it, and went with the flow.
Mark: There was no [grandiose], romantic spectacle. After our first date we just knew. The main discussion was how it would happen. He wanted a big ceremony, and I was satisfied with going to the justice of the peace. Our intimate ceremony at the Gaylord National Harbor was perfect. The staff at the Gaylord was beyond accommodating. That helped make our day even more memorable.
Edwin: He knew on the first date; it took me until the next date to know.
Mark (laughing): Whatever! He knew he wanted all of this.
Was it difficult making the transition to calling each other “husband?”
Mark: It was an easy transition. Since we had a fairly short courtship, our marriage was a matter of “when” not “if.” I think we can say it was truly love at first sight. It always felt like we were in a marriage; the ceremony was the outward expression of what we felt.
Edwin: I still stumble with saying husband when I talk to co-workers. I will lead with spouse first, and then when they ask me about my wife, I correct them and say husband. I have no problem calling Mark husband all the time. But truth be told, he calls me husband more. I think he does that because I am older and he is afraid my memory is not so good. So, he feels the need to constantly remind me so I don’t forget (laughing).
Were your friends and family supportive of your marriage? Did you encounter people who were less than enthusiastic about it? What do you say to those people out there who are against same–sex marriage?
Edwin: For the most part, my friends and family were very supportive of our marriage, but you know there will always be detractors. My mother, step-mother, brothers, and sisters are all very happy for me, so those who aren’t don’t really matter. I did have one family member who went straight Old Testament on me when I announced we were dating, and subsequently went into high gear when we announced our engagement. Like Sweet Brown said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” So I just made a point not to allow that negativity to come into our relationship. And for those who are against same sex marriage, I understand where they are coming from. You have to understand and respect people and their opinions—even if it is not your own—and just hope they become enlightened. Our marriage does not make their relationship any less valid. And for those people who scream at the top of their lungs about the sanctity of marriage, I refer them to reality television shows where the prize is a marriage proposal. Their argument is quickly muted.
Mark: For me, I think more people were surprised that I would ever get married. I’m naturally an introvert, so to actually meet a guy that I love to be around all the time was a major accomplishment. To actually go through with a ceremony was like winning the lottery. The amount of words I have written about people who oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage is endless. I will just say this—God created us perfectly imperfect. He created us in His image. In the eyes of the federal government, marriage has nothing to do with religion or children; it is a business/social contract between two people.
I’ve talked to people about gay marriage, and one question invariably comes up. Do gay people change their names when they get married? I always respond that I think it’s a personal decision. Did either of you change your name? If so, what is your married name?
Mark: HELL NO! Some of the couples we know have changed their names, but I think our marriage is built on the fact that we are individuals who have chosen to make a commitment to each other.
Edwin (laughing): I have friends that took their spouse’s name. I have seen others who hyphenated the two names. We decided to keep our own names. To quote Ike Turner, Sr. in What’s Love Got To Do With It, “The name is mine. The name got my daddy's blood on it. If [he] wanna go, [he] can go wherever [he] wanna go, but the name stays home!” When we decide to have children, the children will have both of our names.
Mark: As you can tell, my husband is a comedian. We want our kids to have a name that connects us all, so we will give them both of our names. That way they are forever attached to both of us.
We hear this talk of benefits being extended to legally married, same-sex couples. What are some of those benefits?
Mark: Since I work for the federal government, Ed can receive all the benefits I receive. In the eyes of the federal government, he is considered my spouse and beneficiary.
Edwin: And with my veteran status, Mark will have access to my VA benefits.
This is all very new to me. I read that legally married, same-sex couples will now be allowed to file federal joint tax returns. The ruling allows couples to receive the same tax benefits that heterosexual couples do when filing jointly. Are you finding that there is clear, coherent tax filing guidance for you? If so, where did you go for this information?
Mark: We will have to get back to you on that one. We haven’t been married over a tax season yet.
Edwin (laughing): Yeah, what my husband said.
Let’s take a break from all the heavy, legal stuff and talk about something light. Let’s talk about those kids you alluded to earlier.
Mark: We are thinking about it. We have been thinking about adoption, but we want to give our marriage some time to settle before we start that process. It’s important for us to give us some time to be young and free (less so on the young part for him) since we will be older when they leave our house.
Edwin: We have talked about adopting children from the foster care system. I have always wanted to be a father, but never wanted to raise a child (or children) on my own. I know that Mark will be a great father, and I look forward to that day.Lastly, what advice do you have for other same-sex couples contemplating marriage?
Mark: Use your heart and head when deciding if marriage is the next phase of your relationship. Marriage is more than love—it’s a social, emotional, and financial obligation between two individuals.
Edwin: Don’t do it! Run! Seriously, if you find that person who you know is the perfect mate for you, don’t waste your time trying to talk yourself out of getting married. Make sure you are really ready and that the two of you are really honest with who you both are and what you need in your relationship in order to make it work.
Mark: My husband may be in the dog house if he keeps it up. We love being married. I think our rings are just a physical representation of the fact that I really, really love my husband. Being in love with the person, and not the person you want them to be, is really important.
Mark and Edwin, thank you so much for your candor during this interview. You answered a lot of the questions we all have wanted to ask. Also, thank you for your offer to get back to us on some of the issues. We’ll take you up on that! This article is just one of many to come on this topic as we will likely have more questions and updates as our fight for marriage equality continues. I hope we can count on you guys to help us navigate these waters. What better resources than those who have already put a ring on it?
For an overview of federal rights and protections granted to married couples, please visit: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/an-overview-of-federal-rights-and-protections-granted-to-married-couples.